A new economic imperative for the sports nutrition market

By Claudia Adrien

- Last updated on GMT

Image by Justin Howe
Image by Justin Howe

Related tags Sports & Active Nutrition Summit USA Sports nutrition products

Finding new markets within the sports nutrition category may be challenging in this economic climate, but experts agree there’s much to be said for diversifying the ways supplements are sold to meet broader consumer needs.

Four industry representatives spoke at this year’s Sports and Active Nutrition Summit in San Diego during the panel discussion ‘The Evolving Market, The Evolving Consumers’. The summit was organized by NutraIngredients-USA.

Laurie Demeritt, CEO of the Hartman Group, said the Gen Z consumer is known for being more critical and accusing companies of not telling the truth.

“A way to resonate with them is to have an authentic narrative and to be knowledgeable,” Demeritt said. “Just saying all those buzz words is probably not going to fly with that group the same way it may have with the millennials.”

Crafting an appropriate message about supplements is not the only way to reach this demographic. Demeritt noted that Gen Z consumers like to quantify their health and compare those metrics with others and will gravitate to companies that provide tools to accomplish that. This generation embraces Nutrigenomics, she said.

“There’s this sort of cultural movement toward making one’s life better day to day and to be able to tell people about that, too,” she added.

Finding new retail outlets

Improving the everyday health of millions of people means finding new opportunities to sell specific kinds of supplements. This includes offering products at places such as the Dollar Store, Walmart and gas stations.

Scott Dicker, director of market insights at SPINS, said companies should have strategies that differ by channel.

“While a premium pre-workout might do really well in GNC, it probably won't do as well in Walmart,” Dicker remarked. “As you think about the different price points, a lot of that is thinking about the same product and how it probably isn't the best fit for every channel. It really has to be a specific strategy per channel to bring people in for your brand, for your ingredients and to the category in general.”

He noted that industry representatives sometimes joke about selling supplements at the Dollar Store but that the retail outlet offers a great way for people to enter the category and to start thinking about their health.

This same thinking applies to convenience stores as well.

“A place like a gas station has the potential to bring somebody into a brand that then can bring them backwards into the supplement space,” said Kenneth Huntly, vice president of merchandising/DNN-sports nutrition at GNC. “So maybe it’s not buying your supplements there, but at least getting exposure to the broader supplement and wellness space through some of these brands that are entering into the convenience space.”

The demographics show lower income consumers are shopping at convenience stores for all sorts of products, so supplement brands would not want to marginalize that consumer, Dicker added.

Inflation and price points

The experts agreed that in a time when inflation is high, brands should be prepared to offer products that meet varying prices. Huntly said he has noticed that more and more consumers who have historically been able to afford health and wellness brands now need options to service them under financial constraints.  

“As we’ve seen inflation kind of go a little crazy in this industry in particular, people are making the decisions to trade down or at least laterally into the things that are clearly the most important,” he said. “It's not even just about inflation but making sure that we're broadening the base of people that can afford to get into this space.”

Dicker noted that when economic times are challenging and when prices go up, people tend to turn to private labels more.

“It’s just changed the way people think about purchasing, where at some point they want their 10-in-one formula,” he said.

The supplements of the future

Demand in an evolving sports nutrition market is not only reserved for new innovative formulas. Consumers are looking for tried-and-true ingredients such as creatine for new applications. No longer is that supplement the domain of bodybuilders.

“Creatine has been on a tear for the last three, four years in particular,” Huntly said, adding that women are now large consumers of the supplement. “People are starting to understand a little bit more about creatine’s possibilities on cognition and brain health.”

He added that as more consumers dramatically lose weight on newly released pharmaceuticals, they are turning to creatine for its ability to preserve lean muscle mass.

Whether its financial reasons or new applications, consumers are becoming savvier about which supplements to choose. The experts predicted personalization will drive substantial consumer decisions in this space.

Todd Pauli, founder and publisher at the Move Nutrition Network, said artificial intelligence is already upsetting the industry, but that it is allowing for “bigger chunks of data to get closer to that personalized nutrition piece.”

He added that he hopes practitioners in the industry adapt and use it because “there’s a lot of opportunity there. It’s the right way.”

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